Winter storms dump half a full season’s snow in Anchorage in one week


Anchorage, Alaska schools were closed for a 4th consecutive day Monday after a series of winter storms have hit the region with as much as 3 feet of snow–half a full season’s snow in a week’s time

Alaskans are a hearty bunch, as you can imagine. Snow is no stranger to mountainous southern Alaska–home to mammoth winter storms which regularly develop over the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska in one of the planet’s most active storm producing regions. This December’s snow has been among south-central Alaska’s heaviest since the 1950s.

The snow tallies of the past week have been enormous–even by south-central Alaska standards. Anchorage, Alaska-based National Weather Service climatologist Dr. Brian Brettschneider, with whom we had the pleasure of working in the production of our recent climate change series–a report which took us, among other places, to Alaska—posted the following Monday ( after the second winter storm in less than a week:

“Up to 16.0″ of snow at my house since the storm started at 1 p.m. yesterday. If you add this to the 20″ I received last Tuesday/ Wednesday, I am now up to a freaking lot of snow. About half the normal annual total in a week.”

It speaks volumes that Anchorage, Alaska schools were closed a fourth consecutive day due to snow Monday. That’s not at all a regular occurrence there. Here’s how Alaska Public Radio is reporting the school closures there due to snow.

Geography regularly contributes to the intensity of snowfall in that region of the world as storms sweep copious moisture from the Gulf of Alaska up against the Chugach Mountains. Mountains lift the moist air enhancing snowfall. I have to wonder too whether abnormal warmth in a huge swath of water across the North Pacific and Gulf of Alaska (as you can see by the ocean temp anomaly analysis below) might be supercharging the moisture and latent heat available to the recent storms. It was only several months ago the remnants of a northbound western Pacific typhoon roared into western Alaska over the same body of anomalously warm water.

Sea surface temp departures from normal showing a “marine heat wave”—i.e. a huge pool of abnormally warm water—-over a vast swath of the western Gulf of Alaska and northern Pacific. If would be over these warmer than normal ocean waters than winds with storms impacting southern Alaska would be blowing fueling these systems’ precipitation.

Watch a GOES-18 weather satellite movie of the recent series of storms sweeping southern Alaska here.

By the way–heavy snows on a warming planet are not unexpected. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and means snow, where it occurs, can be particularly intense. The change is big snows cover less area–which is what’s being observed as the arctic regions undergo overall and long term warming–something which is happening in arctic regions at four times the pace of the planet as a whole.

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